Bitstrip is not comic book art

Bitstrip gets my goat.

Not just because it is soulless, unfunny and unimaginative, but also because it pours wet digital ink on one of my earliest love affairs - real comic books.

For those who haven't checked their Facebook news feed recently, Bitstrip is a mobile app which allows you and your friends to star in your very own "comic".

All you have to do is to put together an avatar from various templates, put it in a pre-drawn comic scene (again templated), slap on a caption and shazam! - you have just "drawn" a comic book image.

How dare they.

Over the past few days, I've seen my friends' avatars hanging out at home, in the office, on hilltops and even in bathtubs and flaming pits. Some were mildly amusing, others made me want to turn green and smash something.

Now I hear that Bitstrip wants to sell itself as an educational tool in schools, because "the possibilities for self- expression are endless".

I think the only thing that will be endless is the amount of time children will waste on this.

Whatever happened to real drawing and doodling?

There is vested interest here, because comics, both badly drawn by my own hand or brilliantly penned by others on glossy pages, lit up my life as a kid.

Then, nobody wanted my textbooks because instead of notes, tips and highlighted sections. I had squiggles, dismembered heads and vaguely humanoid forms clad in spandex and capes.

I was no artist but I enjoyed creating humans which could fly even when my physics teacher was telling the class we couldn't. Blame it on Spider-Man and Batman.

Long before Hollywood gave us its interpretations of the two heroes, I fell in love with the comic book maestros who first made them come alive.

Todd McFarlane gave Spider-Man intricate lines and incredible detail. John Romita Jr had powerful strokes which seemed to make his webs fly off the page. And Frank Miller was the first artist who made Batman mean and depressed, laying the groundwork for Christopher Nolan's film trilogy.

For almost a decade, I bought their comics with my pocket money and rationed reading them.

Each new issue was not to be consumed casually. It was to be carefully removed from its clear plastic at first, sniffed at - because nothing beats the smell of a new comic book - before the first page is gingerly peeled open.

None of the pages would ever be opened fully, in order to protect the vulnerable spine of the comic.

There were other rituals too. Every Saturday morning, I would be the first person to visit the National Library branch at Marine Parade, not to borrow books but to get my hands on all the copies of Tintin and Asterix comic books I could find. Those were hard to locate, and the ones I could not borrow, I selfishly hid underneath the magazine rack so I could retrieve them a week later.

Afternoons on those weekends were spent at the oddly named Comicsnaut store at Katong Shopping Centre, where I counted my change and handed them over for 24-page bundles of joy.

Each issue was a window to a world better than my own.

I was often in my bedroom, buried in Spidey's latest tangle with the Green Goblin, as my parents had one of their shouting matches in the living room. I wasn't able to save their marriage but my cartoon heroes could save the world - and there was illogical comfort in that.

At its peak, my collection of comic books numbered over 500. Like most fans at that age, I was certain that one day, I would cash in that treasure trove for a fortune.

That never happened. Instead, the comics industry began to fade in the face of video games and the Internet, and publishers turned to gimmicks to sell issues. Superman "died" more times than I could remember, multiple "special editions" of the same comic were released and prices went up.

I didn't fall out of love but this was an affair I could no longer afford.

Comicsnaut closed down, my dusty collection went into exile under my bed and the only superheroes I saw were at the movies.

But I never forgot the pleasure of holding a new comic in my hand or the joy of a sharp, uneven scrape of a pencil across paper.

No app can recreate that.

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